Mini-Reviews of Recent Reads – March 2022

March 2022 book reviews of The Sweetness of Water, The Unsinkable Greta James, Here Lies, Willodeen, River Secrets, and The Rubicus Prophecy.

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Do you ever get “stuck” on a book and it throws your whole reading life off?

That’s my current situation.

I typically listen to several audiobooks each month, but a while ago I decided to try out Hanya Yanagihara’s new book To Paradise on audio.

At 28 hours, I knew it was a commitment, but I figured I would steadily move through it and finish in a few weeks. I was a huge fan of Yanagihara’s A Little Life and was thrilled to learn that she had a new release. It had to be worth it–right?

Well, my friends, I am officially stuck.

It’s just not holding my attention and I’m not compelled to turn it on.


I know there are other threads in the story coming–just like it took A Little Life a while to get moving. So do I keep going?

I’ve gotten so much better about putting down (or “DNFing”) books that aren’t working for me, but I am struggling to do it with an author whose next work I have been waiting on for so long.

Has anyone read it? Is it worth the read?

Anyway, feeling stuck on audiobooks has also led to a slow reading month with print books, so I thought I’d also share some of the books I’ve been reading with my kids.

I also want to share my most recent post, walking through my entire process for planning my 2022 reading challenge–plus a video showing how I use my digital Reading Challenge Journal to plan it. Check it out here:

Print/E-Book Reviews

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

The Sweetness of Water

Author: Nathan Harris
Source: Library
Publish Date: June 15, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble | Audible

Following the end of the Civil War, newly freed Black people are left to fend for themselves among resentful white people who do not want to hire them. When George Walker, a former northerner in Georgia, meets Prentiss and Landry in his woods, he offers them lodging and jobs helping him cultivate new peanut fields. Landry is a gentle giant, injured and silent after years of torment at the hands of his enslavers. He finds respite in the beauty of nature and water. Prentiss is wary and protective of his brother, and the two plan to leave the South when they have the means.

Neighbors resent George and his wife, Isabelle’s, fair treatment of the men, but they both appreciate the men’s presence. The couple struggle with distance in their marriage and with their son Caleb, a disgraced soldier returned from war and tormented by his longing for his friend August. The growing resentments reach a tipping point when Caleb and August are discovered, resulting in a tragic murder and cascading acts of violence that could destroy the town.

Harris’s debut is a fantastic, heartbreaking exploration of the tumultuous period of Reconstruction. Every main character is so well-developed, complex and imperfect, each courageous in their own way. This was a book club read and I know there will be a lot to discuss; I was riveted.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

The Unsinkable Greta James

Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Source: Random House – Ballantine Books via Netgalley
Publish Date: March 1, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble | Audible

Greta James is an indie music sensation and her mother’s unflinching support was always her bedrock. After her mother’s death, Greta is left flailing and has an on-stage meltdown, just ahead of the release of her important sophomore album. Greta is reluctant when her brother asks that she join her unsupportive father on an Alaskan cruise, but she finally gives in, hoping to reset both her career and her relationship with her father.

On the cruise, Greta enjoys her relative anonymity among the older passengers, but she struggles to connect with her father. Ben, a young Jack London historian struggling with his own life changes, provides companionship and new perspective for Greta, and the cruise may just be the new start everyone needed.

This was a lovely contemporary novel; it’s an easy, fast read, but it delves into difficult topics including grief, parent-child tensions, and starting over at various life stages. The resolutions aren’t pat, but feel realistic, and the romance, too, acknowledges the difficulties of real life. Recommend for fans of Beach Read and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Here Lies by Olivia Claire Friedman

Here Lies

Author: Olivia Claire Friedman
Source: Grove Atlantic via Netgalley
Publish Date: March 22, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Dystopia

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble

In the year 2042, climate change has prompted new restrictions: no funerals, no burials, and everyone must be cremated. Unless the deceased was someone’s only relation, the remains are the property of the state. Alma, 21, alone, unemployed, and mourning her mother, is determined to claim her ashes. In her quest, she befriends Bordelon, a homeless 19-year-old with her own losses and struggles, as well as several women who aid in their own unique ways.

Friedman’s writing on grief, found family, and loyalty hits hard at times, but other details make this a perplexing read. Why is burial banned–and is cremation so much better for the climate? Why is public mourning also banned? Why are other details of the 20-year-on future basically unchanged from today (from vehicles to pop culture to phones)? The only difference here is the handling of the dead. None of these things are explained (though the loss of mourning rituals certainly reflects recent COVID-era experiences–perhaps it was the inspiration?). While the future setting falls a bit flat, I loved the characters, their relationships, and Friedman’s handling of grief.

Middle-Grade Reads (with my kids)

Willodeen by Katherine Applegate


Author: Katherine Applegate
Source: MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group via Netgalley
Publish Date: September 7, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble | Audible

In the village of Perchance, screechers have long been reviled, while the adorable hummingbears are the lifeblood of the economy, drawing tourists for the hummingbear festival each year. Eleven-year-old Willodeen loves all animals, but especially the stinky screechers that everyone else hates. When they are hunted almost to extinction, she is the only one who is worried. More widely concerning is that the hummingbears have also not made their annual migration to Perchance. Willodeen is determined to stand up for the screechers before it’s too late–and she might even discover the answer to the disappearing hummingbears along the way.

We adore Katherine Applegate around here (The One and Only Ivan, The One and Only Bob, and Wishtree are some of our favorites), and she has again hit it out of the park with a lovely story on the delicate balance of nature and the dangers of human disruption. This is a beautiful blend of magic and science–after finishing this book, my science-loving second-grader started a nature observation notebook, just like Willodeen’s.

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

River Secrets

Author: Shannon Hale
Source: Shelf
Publish Date: July 23, 2010
Genres: Fiction, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Each of Hale’s Books of Bayern gives us the perspective of a new character–one who was a supporting character in the previous books. This third book brings us the story of Razo, everyone’s favorite snarky friend, short in stature but big on charm.

As one of the King’s Own soldiers, Razo is part of a diplomatic mission in Tira, following the end of the brutal war that Bayern won in Enna Burning. The convoy is there to secure peace between the two countries, but relations are tenuous and someone seems bent on restarting the war. With the help of his new friend, Dasha, Razo is determined to find out who is sabotaging peace.

Shannon Hale is one of our favorite middle-grade authors to read aloud together. Her books are smart, complex, and filled with nature-oriented magic. The characters are vivid, and many have snarky smarts that delight my fifth grader. I love how Hale weaves complex politics and international relations into her riveting narratives.

While the nuances are not always easy for a young reader to understand, her books have spurred many discussions that are applicable to our modern world. I highly recommend this series for magic-loving, curious middle-grade readers.

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Barnes & Noble | Audible

The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams

The Rubicus Prophecy (The Witches of Orkney )

Author: Alane Adams
Source: Publisher (SparkPress)
Publish Date: October 15, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Amazon | Bookshop.org | Barnes & Noble

In this follow-on to The Blue Witch, Abigail is beginning her second year at the Tarkana Witch Academy. But things are not going well. The evil spellbook continues to tempt her with dark magic, and the school is buzzing about the Rubicus Prophecy; could she be the one chosen to break Odin’s curse? When Abigail and her friends are pulled into a quest to retrieve a crucial item, they end up in the catacombs beneath the Academy, fighting for their lives.

The Witches of Orkney is a fun series to read aloud with kids, with plenty of adventure, magic, and mythology. These are not as complex as some of the big names in middle-grade magic and mythology series (you know the ones), but they are excellent options for kids who love a bit of magic but may not want doorstopper books. I also love that these are set on Orkney. I visited a number of years ago and it is a fascinating place, filled with mysterious ancient historical sites that Adams brings to life.

What have you (and/or your kids!) been reading lately?

What do you do if you get “stuck” on a book?



  1. I’m currently stuck with Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. One of my goals this year is to read a fantasy novel, a genre I don’t normally read. I picked a fairy tale retelling because it would be easier for a newbie than high fantasy. I have stalled at 28% read. It is interesting and well-written, and I’m not really not sure why I haven’t continued it. I put it down and read a couple other things (political thriller and romance). Any tips on how to resume reading? Or should I just DNF the novel and try to find another fantasy read?
    I think this is the first time I’ve left a comment. I’ve been reading your posts for about six months. I really enjoy your mini-reviews.

    1. Thanks, Adrienne! If you’re really interested in the book, I’d say give it one more try. If it doesn’t hook you, move on to something else. I think I’m going to take that approach with To Paradise. Life is too short and reading time too precious to waste it on books that aren’t working for us!

  2. I read your email about being stuck. Before opening your blog I just KNEW it was To Paradise. I just finished it last night and was having the same thought but slogged on through it. 15 second review: 1st story was the weakest. The first half of the 2nd story was good but not so much the second half. The 3rd story was the best.

    1. How funny that you knew! I think I’ll give it one more shot before moving on. It sounds like the third story is promising, but it’s such a long time to get there. My TBR is piling up. Thanks for your review!

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